Comics Ate My Brain

July 17, 2007

New comics 6/27/07, 7/5/07, and 7/11/07

Twenty-one titles over the past three weeks, and I’m looking at twelve more tomorrow….

6/27/07

Amazons Attack #3 and Wonder Woman #10 have bled into each other by now. I’d have to go through each side-by-side and page-by-page to determine what takes place in which order, let alone how this event relates to Countdown. Also, Batman’s “Bees. My God.” line from AA #3 demands to be said in a Cartman voice. Still, both books look pretty; AA’s Pete Woods always delivers, but Paco Diaz does a fine Dodson/Drew Johnson impression for Wonder Woman.

My only complaint with Fantastic Four #547 is that Reed can apparently survive in space unaided, and the more I think about it the more it makes a weird comic-science sense. Otherwise it’s another solid issue from Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier, and Rick Magyar.

I wasn’t going to get Supergirl & The Legion #31, because I thought a break was needed after the Waid/Kitson era, but it wasn’t too bad. It feels like a pastiche of Waid/Kitson, which isn’t entirely fair considering that Tony Bedard and Kevin Sharpe had each done some fill-in work previously, but I’m still not sure I don’t need a break.

She-Hulk #19 presented a fascinating legal strategy, one which might not be too innovative in the history of superhero comics, but which was argued well nonetheless. I continue to like the Dan Slott/Rick Burchett/Cliff Rathburn team, but some combination of the inks and the colors (by Andy Troy) actually make the figures look two-dimensional – and by that I mean that I had to look twice to see if a Two-Gun Kid cardboard cutout was supposed to be sitting at the table.

I talked about Sinestro Corps already.

7/4/07

The 3-D effects were the best thing about Action Comics #851, and that’s actually saying something this time. This story has been a mixed bag, but this issue doesn’t have too much to do beyond getting Superman out of the Phantom Zone and showing Zod’s conquest of the Earth. I bet in four or five months, when the conclusion finally appears, I’ll have had time to form an opinion on the story so far.

Atom #13 takes Ryan and Chronos back to the land of tiny barbarians Ray Palmer visited in the Sword of the Atom books, and by and large it’s pretty fun. Gail Simone uses the same kinds of funny-talkin’ aliens that endeared us to this book’s first crop of diminutive villains, but it works here too.

Nightwing #134 flashes back to a Bat-spat, and in the present finds our hero fighting the new Vigilante. However, one of the things I liked best was Jamal Igle’s two-page, top-tier spread of a swanky restaurant. It might seem like an indulgence, but it sets the proper tone for the scene. The story’s pretty good so far, too.

Detective Comics #834 — 700 issues ahead of Nightwing, I see – finishes up the Batman/Zatanna team-up pretty well. Zatanna gets her revenge on the villain of the piece, and she and Batman finally make up after Identity Crisis. It’s still a Batman story, but he doesn’t overshadow her, which was nice.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #53 is officially a dead title walking, as of today’s DC solicitations. It’s a shame, but I can’t say I’ll miss the book too terribly much. This issue was decent; more of the Black Manta-takes-over-Sub Diego story, with well-done superhero action.

Welcome To Tranquility #8 presents a medley of spotlights on the people of Tranquility, and I have to say, these little doses have done more to make me like this title than the big six-issue opening arc did. They kept the book on my radar for sure.

All-Star Superman #8 wasn’t as immediately gratifying as its predecessors, but it was still good. I’m sure I will appreciate its depth and complexities the more I revisit it … whenever that might be. The same thing applies to JLA Classified #40 — I can tell there’s a nature/nurture/free-will theme running through the issue, but I want to look at it in a better context before passing a more definite judgment.

I talked about some ramifications of Outsiders #49 last week. Probably not going to pick up the revamped title.

7/11/07

Star Wars: Rebellion #8 was fairly entertaining. The pieces of the story are starting to come together, and it’s done a good job of creating Star Wars-esque characters who aren’t overly familiar. I didn’t buy Vader’s high-jump-flip, though — too prequel-y.

Green Lantern #21 was a very good follow-up to the Sinestro Corps Special, and it gives me high hopes that “SC” will be the good kind of epic “Event,” not the bloated Countdown kind.

Superman #664 did a lot to advance the “Camelot Falls” arc, even explaining the arc’s title. Tying in the Prankster fill-in from a few months ago was good too. Man, Carlos Pacheco draws a great superhero book; and Jesus Merino’s inks are meticulous — everything pops off the page. Too bad about the book’s scheduling problems.

Superman Confidential #5 likewise does a lot to start wrapping up the “Origin Of Kryptonite,” with the most important probably being the explanation for the meteor chunk’s thought balloons. A good, plot-driven, payoff-facilitating issue.

Lastly, the Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular was a highly enjoyable romp through the silliness which is post-Civil War Marvel. The sight of Penance’s cat was priceless.

SPECIAL DOES-COUNTDOWN-MAKE-SENSE? SECTION

Okay, so I read Countdown #s 44-42 all together to see if there’s any narrative cohesion, and the answer is …

… maybe, a little. Countdown has dedicated itself pretty firmly to following its basic cast of characters. When those characters’ stories are interrupted, as #43’s Flash funeral does, the series’ rhythms are thrown off.

However, Countdown’s problem lies in its over-reliance on its core characters to explain everything going on in the rest of DC. It seems like each scene is an interaction between characters – and if that sounds basic, I mean that each scene essentially involves conversation. The exception in these three issues is the funeral, which begins with a few narrated panels establishing Keystone City. Still, even that narration comes from Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy might well be Countdown’s central figure, but the series spends so much time on each of its characters that Jimmy contends for space with Mary Marvel, Donna Troy, et al.

Indeed, Countdown doesn’t do a whole lot to lay out its story’s scope, explain what’s at stake, or otherwise build a structure upon which to hang those scenes. Countdown has focused pretty faithfully on its characters, so much so that it seems like the plot is being left to other titles. After ten issues of a fifty-two-issue miniseries, those structural devices should start becoming apparent, and I get no sense of them. Now, it may well be that this isn’t just a fifty-two-issue miniseries — but how much shapelessness are we readers expected to endure in an eighty- or hundred-issue Mega-Comics Event?

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June 17, 2005

New comics 6/8/05 and 6/15/05

Filed under: batman, crisis, gla, gotham central, justice league, lotdk, seven soldiers, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:54 pm
You get two weeks in one thanks to bad timing on my part. (Lots of Bat-books — wonder why?)

Off we go.

Gotham Central #32 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber) was the best of the past couple of weeks. It’s a tidy little story about a couple of crooked Gotham cops’ encounter with Poison Ivy. Too bad A.J. Lieberman just killed Ivy in the pages of Gotham Knights, because this tale represents not only Gotham Central‘s bread and butter, but also an indication of what the Bat-titles could be across the board. Gotham City offers perhaps the richest single environment in the DC universe, if not superhero comics as a whole, and there is tremendous value in peeking into its corners — not just exploiting it with mega-crossovers.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #192 (written by J.H. Williams III and D. Curtis Johnson, with art by Seth Fisher) begins what looks like another Mr. Freeze-centered arc — right after concluding a Freeze two-parter last issue, and while Freeze is appearing in both Batman and Detective Comics. Is Arnold Schwarzenegger exercising some eight-year-old option? Anyway, it’s couched in the origin of Mr. Freeze, but it looks to explore the “sidekick question” as well. Were I not burned out on Freeze (so to speak) I might have been in a more receptive mood, but the story itself is fine, and the art is unusually bright and open — not to mention overtly expressive — for a modern Batman story. I am therefore giving “Snow” the chance to win me over.

Rann-Thanagar War #2 (written by Dave Gibbons, art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos) started giving me bad flashbacks to the Official Revised Hawkman Origin from JSA a few years ago, what with its talk of Onimar Synn and weird Thanagarian cults. I hate having to make sense of Hawkman, who is ostensibly not that hard of a character to understand. Thankfully, there’s more stuff with Kyle Rayner, L.E.G.I.O.N., and the Khunds to occupy this issue. Captain Comet also shows up, as does Starfire’s sister Komand’r. The politics and action are balanced pretty evenly, the exposition isn’t too heavy, and Reis and Campos make a good art team. I continue to enjoy this miniseries.

Before Action Comics #828 (written by Gail Simone, art by John Byrne and Nelson) turns into a Villains United tie-in, it’s a pretty decent continuation of the Dr. Polaris story begun last issue. Polaris’ evil alter ego, Repulse, poses some Hobbes-the-tiger-style questions about who can see “her” and how, and the issue as a whole is a little unfocused. It switches from Superman’s fight to Jimmy Olsen’s coverage of it and then throws in Lois exposing a charitable scam before wrapping everything up with a sweet Lois/Superman romantic excursion. Still, it’s good to see Lois and Jimmy being reporters, and the individual stories are each engaging.

Batman: Dark Detective #3 (written by Steve Englehart, with art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin) was perhaps my second favorite book of last week. It used a Two-Face setup I’d always wanted to see, and it also teamed him up with Dr. Double X, another forgotten Bat-villain from the ’50s and ’60s. Moreover, Englehart continues his exploration of Bruce’s integrating the two sides of his life, again using Silver St. Cloud to do so. That’s fascinating enough — whoa, Silver, close up that robe! — but the Two-Face subplot was almost as good.

So then this week I got Dark Detective #4 and was disappointed at how little it did. Basically it’s an extended fear-gas fantasy going back (yet again) to the immediate aftermath of the Waynes’ murders. I had a bit of a continuity issue with this, because I thought Leslie Thompkins had been established in this timeline fairly concretely, but Englehart is obviously tweaking things to suit his memory of the character, and that’s fine too. Also, Silver breaks up with her fiance. Because that’s about it, in a miniseries that has been fairly jam-packed so far, that’s why I was disappointed. Not enough to drop the miniseries (with only two issues left, mind you), just to question this issue’s pacing.

Speaking of issues which appear to go nowhere, here’s Batman: Gotham Knights #66 (written by A.J. Lieberman, art by Al Barrionuevo and Bit), featuring Prometheus’ abduction by Talia and Deathstroke. Being smart super-criminals, they recognize they don’t need Hush, but since Prometheus gets critically injured, they bring him along to try and save Prometheus’ life. This gives us a chance to recap Prometheus’ origin (written by Grant Morrison for a 1997 JLA special) and reflect on how he could now be at such a low point. In the end nothing is settled, because it’s all been setting up a JSA Classified story for later in the year. Thanks, DC! At least Cliff Chiang’s cover portrait of Talia is cool.

After two issues of waiting, Day of Vengeance #3 (written by Bill Willingham, with art by Ron Wagner and Dexter Vines) finally lets me know (on page 9 or so) that the masked woman is Nightshade, formerly of the Suicide Squad. However, on page 1, it tells me who Captain Marvel is. Thanks, DC! Although the Captain Marvel/Spectre/Eclipso subplots appear to conclude this issue, it ends with Detective Chimp and Nightshade visiting a mysterious girl whose name I didn’t recognize but probably should have. I liked the art better this issue because it seemed better-defined than Justiniano’s. Also, while Willingham’s plot has been decent so far, his script doesn’t come off as clever as he thinks it must. This is my least favorite of the various Infinite Crisis precursors.

Adventures of Superman #641 (written by Greg Rucka, art by Karl Kerschl) finds Clark visiting Pete Ross in prison and being attacked by the sibling Parasites and OMAC (which, as the cover proclaims, no longer stands for One Man Army Corps). Kerschl tends to draw big, meaty figures who fill up the panels, so he’s fairly well suited for a Superman title, and Rucka is clearly connecting Ruin with the Shadowy Figures behind OMAC. Therefore, I can’t really judge this issue on its own, but it does advance the various plots Rucka has been maintaining during his tenure. Still not as good as Rucka’s Wonder Woman, but getting there.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Frazer Irving) likewise connects this book with its S7 cousin, Guardian, albeit obliquely. Klarion and Teekl find enemies and allies on their way up to the surface world, although telling one from the other gets a little sketchy. Morrison does establish that Klarion isn’t as helpless as he might seem, and Irving’s deadpan art (in the Charles Addams/Edward Gorey tradition) reinforces that.

It’s too bad that JLA Classified #8 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) is the penultimate chapter of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!,” because the story hasn’t missed a beat since these creators left the League titles in 1992. Here, the team has found its way out of Hell, but Beetle’s got amnesia and they’re stuck on a strange evil-counterpart Earth. The cover, with a dominatrix Mary Marvel pounding Guy Gardner’s head into the pavement, says it all, but it’s only a warmup for what’s inside. I really hope that when DC’s Infinite Gyrations are over, it looks into its cold corporate heart and lets these guys play with these characters on a more ongoing basis.

As it happens, I picked up GLA #3 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar), which on the surface appeared to be a similar story of hard-luck loser superheroes, and has since turned into an amazingly bitter black comedy about random superhero death. I’m almost glad I don’t have much emotional attachment to these characters, but this miniseries paints them so sympathetically that it’s almost as cruel to the reader as it is to the decedents. Makes me wonder about the tone of next issue’s conclusion.

May 4, 2005

New comics 5/4/05

Filed under: batman, captain marvel, crisis, firestorm, gla, seven soldiers, shanna, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:35 pm
Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, except here in horse country, where the first Saturday in May is Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby (the subject of an hilarious essay by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) is like a statewide Super Bowl — everything stops, there are parties with lots of booze (cultured booze like mint juleps, mind you, not just the beer you get at Super Bowl parties), and although the race itself takes about two minutes, you pretty much end up spending the entire afternoon watching coverage from Churchill Downs. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell one end of the horse from another, just like knowledge of football doesn’t matter for a Super Bowl party.

The point is, it’s practically a state holiday that would be a state holiday if it weren’t on Saturday. Several years ago I was in court in Trimble County (about a half-hour outside Louisville) on Oaks Day — the day before Derby, when the all-filly Kentucky Oaks is run — and the judge didn’t show. To us, the implication was clear.

Therefore, kids, I don’t need to tell you that if your local comics shop is in our fair commonwealth, you’ll probably have your pick of free comics on Saturday, because you’ll be one of the few people in the store.

As for today, there were no free comics, believe me.

Batman: Dark Detective #1 brings us the reunion of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, and inker Terry Austin on a Batman story. (Letterer John Workman did a few of those earlier issues too.) I liked this issue, and freely admit I was predisposed to like it. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne attends a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who happens to be married to old flame Silver St. Cloud. The Joker shows up at the fundraiser, and he and Batman fight. The issue has a nice hand-made feel to it, thanks in large part to Austin’s inks (which don’t smooth out Rogers’ edges as much as they once did) and Workman’s lettering, which doesn’t look computer-generated. There’s a tribute to the team’s late editor Julie Schwartz, both in the credits box and as a cameo. A couple of key sequences from the earlier run are also copied exactly, right down to the panel layout, but if it wasn’t broke before, why fix it? If I had a quibble with the issue, it’s that a character who appears to die horribly shows up later literally without a hair out of place. Otherwise, Engelhart’s Bruce/Batman, Joker, and Silver are all portrayed skillfully, with Bruce and Silver’s meeting handled especially subtly. This team knows its fame and is aware of its unique “vision,” but it doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads.

Back in the book that originally published their stories, Detective Comics #806 (written by David Lapham, art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) offers a pretty grim installment of “City of Crime.” Although I’m not sure Lapham’s story still has momentum after six months — and I wonder if it can sustain what it has for the remaining six — this was a suspenseful tale which deepens the plot’s paranoia. Basically Batman, the missing girl’s mother, and the last honest cop in Gotham are all trying to hold off the sinister forces which have taken over the city. Still a good read, and I may see this later on as the bridge issue which helped keep the plot going. There’s also a clever Alfred backup story by writer Scott Beatty and artist Jeff Parker which finds him on a cold-war-era espionage mission. (Yes, under DC’s current timeline, the Soviet Union probably would have ceased to exist before Bruce Wayne put on the Batsuit.)

(A brief digression: this week I am starting to notice ads in the books for ringtones. These remind me, at least in layout, of those long-ago ads for “record clubs” like Columbia House and BMG which used to appear in the comics of the mid-’70s. Everything old is new again, I suppose.)

In Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) we learn the fates of Justin and his steed after the police car hit them last issue. While Justin endures a somewhat predictable trek through the alleys of Los Angeles — really, isn’t the beating-up-unsuspecting-thugs scene long since spent? — Vanguard the horse is nursed back to health by a handful of colorful characters. The art is gorgeous, and there is more to Justin’s arc this issue than just fighting. The credits page also waits until halfway through the issue to appear, which has to count for something. (I thought it was an ad at first.) At the end I think Justin and Vanguard are close to reuniting, but I’ll have to read it a couple more times to make sure.

Still haven’t found a copy of Day of Vengeance #1, but as it turns out Superman #216 (written by Judd Winick, art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) leads into it. Somewhere a DC production worker is being severely chastised, I am sure. This issue is the big Captain Marvel/Superman fight, depicted pretty well by Churchill and Rapmund. They use a few too many wide shots to show distance, and thereby sacrifice the characters’ easy identification, but I guess that’s where Winick’s captions come in. The whole thing ends kind of abruptly, in order to set up the DoV conflicts. It’s getting so I’m starting to wonder if these regular-series tie-ins (like JLA Classified #s 1-3, to be fair) will be collected with the miniseries’ paperback, because they sure don’t make sense in the context of the Superman books themselves.

Firestorm #13 (written by Dan Jolley, art by Jamal Igle, Rob Stull, and Lary Stucker) also ends the battle with the Thinker abruptly, but this time it’s to wrap up outgoing writer Dan Jolley’s tenure and lay the groundwork for new writer Stuart Moore. Along the way Ronnie Raymond gets some closure, and his parental situation is contrasted with Jason’s. Like I say, the fight ends early, but on the other hand Jolley was more concerned with its aftermath. We’ll see if Moore can do as well as Jolley has.

Villains United #1 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) pits two classic DC names against each other — the Secret Society of Super-Villains vs. the Secret Six. This book deals in so many villains I honestly couldn’t identify them all. I think Scandal (of the S6) was in the “Ravens” with Cheshire, but why is there a new Rag Doll and what’s this Parademon doing here? Dear DC, I have been reading many of your books continuously for the past 20 years, and I have the DC Encyclopedia and every issue of Who’s Who — including the 3-ring binder version — so when I don’t know who somebody is, I won’t be hurt if you have to tell me. Other than that, it was a good setup, and it left me interested in what happens next.

Also in the obscure-character department, we have GLA #2 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) doing a membership drive to replace Dinah Soar, killed last issue. This provides a framework for Slott to riff on a few comics cliches, including a funny take on the “I work alone” speech and a pointed Batman reference which I heartily endorse. Unlike Villains United, which threw me into the deep end immediately, GLA made sure I knew who everyone was and why they were important, so good on it for that.

Finally, I bought Shanna The She-Devil #4 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) and was turned off not by the implausibility of Shanna fighting dinosaurs without losing her bikini, but by the gratuitous dino killings. Since buying #3, I have also signed up for an e-mail comics service which delivers Cho’s Liberty Meadows to my inbox every day, and I can’t see that guy writing this book. It’s a well-crafted book (although you could base a drinking game on the “Holy buckets” epithet) but there’s not much else to it. As for the dino-gore, wouldn’t it have worked just as well in silhouette?

April 7, 2005

New comics 3/30/05 and 4/6/05: better late than never

Two weeks’ worth of comics — which to read first?

25 years ago, The New Teen Titans #8 was lauded for featuring a “Day in the Life” and focusing on character moments to endear the cast to the readers. Some 10 years later, DC’s Annuals included 8-page “Private Lives” stories which sometimes filled gaps in continuity. In the late 1990s, DC began publishing thick, expensive “Secret Files” books whose gap-filling stories were separated by illustrated data sheets on the characters.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis is a high-profile gap-filler which does three things: sets up related miniseries through a survey of the DC Universe; introduces the coming epic’s mastermind; and shocks with the on-screen death of a superhero who (despite what the book has said about him) has been a consistently good member of DC’s community. The blogosphere spent the better part of the past several days ripping this book apart, and rightly so. Aside from questionable characterization (most obvious with the Martian Manhunter), CTIC also suffers from delayed lead-ins: Hal Jordan and Adam Strange appear despite their respective miniseries being an issue or two away from over. (Similarly, Wonder Woman’s eyes have apparently healed by this point.) I also suspect that much of the exposition supplied here will be regurgitated in the opening pages of the minis to follow. However, I did learn 1) the completely unnecessary explanation for why Blue Beetle wears goggles; and 2) Metropolis is in New York state, not Rhode Island (and somebody out there is mad at CTIC just for that!).

There’s no real good reason to read CTIC. Either you’re a longtime DC fan who doesn’t need the exposition; or you’re a newcomer and the shocking revelations won’t mean much. The ending leaves little doubt that the victim is dead, which is both distasteful and counterproductive — wouldn’t it be more suspenseful to leave some hope of rescue/recovery? I suppose the art, by Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jiminez, is decent, although Jiminez makes the villain beefier and the hero chunkier than the others do.

I hope that DC will use the 80 pages for $1.00 format for future “Secret Files,” though.

On to the regular series. Batman #638 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) reveals the Red Hood’s identity, but (disobeying the cover) not to Batman. Bats and Nightwing are busy dealing with the Red Hood, Black Mask, and Mr. Freeze trying to claim a significant amount of Kryptonite. Winick has given each of the villains a very loosey-goosey, self-aware speaking style which is entertaining in and of itself, but I’m not sure if it works for Mr. Freeze. Mahnke and Nguyen’s art is also a little looser this issue, with Batman especially looking more fluid and less blocky than they’ve drawn him to date. Again there’s a shocking revelation and a surprising death at the end, but I’m (like Steve) not sure why one would wear a mask under a mask. I’m also not convinced that the dead man is who he looks like. Regardless, this is still a better Bat-book than most others have been recently.

Of course, the Bat-book better than Batman is Detective Comics #805 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill). It begins where the last issue ended, with Batman the happy warrior in the thick of a pack of goons. This issue sees “City of Crime” take a weirder turn, with the revelation that people in Gotham are being replaced with sinister duplicates. I’m not sure that the story really needed such an element, since Lapham was doing so well with the straight-up crime, but he makes it suitably creepy. There is also a backup story involving a baby Clayface and some manure that is either fun or juvenile, probably depending on your mood.

Flash #220 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) highlights the two groups of Rogues and pretty much confirms for me that previous periodic interruptions (for example, to tell the sordid story of the Mirror Master) were unnecessary. Conventional wisdom held that the previous Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery never succeeded because they never quite had the killer instinct one needs for optimum villainy. Now, as Geoff Johns has taught us over what seems like the last 200 years, the Rogues mean business. However, this issue puts them in direct conflict with a group of reformed Rogues working for the FBI. That’s about it for the plot, really. (But why does Trickster I have his foot on the Stanley Cup on the last page?) I wonder what Johns will do once “Rogue War” is over, because it seems like the past couple of years have been building to this storyline. For that reason I have mixed feelings about this issue — on one hand, it packs all those other expository installments into 22 pages; but on the other at least he’s picking up the pace.

Legion of Super-Heroes #4 (written by Mark Waid, breakdowns by Barry Kitson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Mick Gray, second story art by Dave Gibbons) establishes a little more concretely the schism between the 31st Century’s teenagers and adults. We get to see some repression and, of course, the violence inherent in the system. The spine of the story is the origin of Invisible Kid, but this issue feels more like a regular story than an origin tale. The backup is a day in the life of Phantom Girl as told by Karate Kid, and although it aspires to be a tender account of how P.G. spends her life perpetually between dimensions, it comes off as extremely strange. It’s the kind of thing Waid could work into stories as a running gag, so even an 8-page backup may be giving it too much attention. Anyway, overall another solid issue from Waid & Kitson, with Leonard Kirk either blending seamlessly with Kitson’s style, aping it effectively, or both.

While Waid’s final issue of Fantastic Four (#524) (art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel) didn’t really conclude his Galactus arc, it did give him an opportunity to bookend his run on the series with a heartfelt exploration of how the FF feel about their powers. I say “bookend” because the emotional issues surrounding their powers were explored by Waid in his first issue on the title. He and Ringo are a hard act to follow.

That brings me to Peter David’s second run on Incredible Hulk (#80) (art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer). The current “Tempest Fugit” arc is either a clever simulation run by a still-mysterious mastermind, or a backdoor rewind of the continuity clock to just before David left the title. I doubt seriously it’s the latter, and so does Bruce Banner, who thinks he’s gotten the hang of the clever simulations. His rebellion against them is the book’s high point, and their reaction is just as good. All in all, it’s still confusing, but in an entertaining way.

Superman/Batman #18 (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino) finally concludes the “Absolute Power” storyline. Remember, 5 months ago, how I praised Loeb for curtailing the dueling narration? It’s back now; and if that’s supposed to mean everything is going to be OK, then quite frankly I don’t want to be right. Reset buttons are pushed, and there are more invocations of alternate DC futures, before our heroes get back to normal and try to reconcile their horrible alternate deeds with their former victims. This title is on my list of “maybe it reads better in one sitting,” but while I think DC needs a successor to World’s Finest Comics, Jeph Loeb probably shouldn’t write it.

Speaking of oft-delayed books, Green Lantern Rebirth #5 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver and Prentis Rollins) finally came out this week. This penultimate issue finds Hal back in ring-slinging action and taking on the revived Sinestro. Two things bothered me about this issue.

First, once again Hal is exulting in the fact that he doesn’t face any more soul-searching or have any doubts about his ability. Obviously Johns means this as an empowering, not-gonna-take-it-anymore statement of purpose, but does this mean Hal’s emotional development has been rolled back over 30 years, to the beginning of the Denny O’Neil era? If memory serves, Kevin Smith revived Ollie Queen at a point around that same time — so you have to wonder if DC sees that period as some kind of decline. Anyway, to me that can’t be good, because it means that at some point in the future, somebody’s going to decide Hal needs yet another crisis of conscience. (When that turns out to be the name of DC’s big 2011 crossover, you heard it here first.) Now he’s happily whipping up on Sinestro, but wait a few years and he’ll be as conflicted as ever. Otherwise, he’ll be insufferable.

Second, while the art was fine mostly, a few details bothered me. Hal’s redesigned costume still throws off his proportions; Parallax’s first appearance this issue reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne; and the big Hal-Kyle handshake on page (numbers would be nice, DC!) 17 seems to have been taken straight from the Kentucky flag. (“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” indeed.)

We’ll see how this all shakes out next issue, whenever it decides to appear.

Somewhat like Phantom Girl, Zatanna has been a character either trapped between, or coexisting in both, DC’s Vertigo books and its mainstream superhero titles. She started in the latter and eventually joined the Justice League, but for a while she was entrenched in Vertigo’s stable of mystical heroes. Thus, it’s no surprise that Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) straddled that line between straightforward superheroics and knowing, ironic commentary on same. It covers some of the same territory as the original Seven Soldiers #0, including a dimension-hopping journey gone horribly awry. However, its tone is very matter-of-fact, with Zatanna at the end saying she’ll call the JLA if she really thinks things are too serious. The juxtaposition is entertaining, even if all the different dimensional dangers get confusing. Sook and Gray do a great job with the art, which is at times both droll and scary. This could be my favorite 7S miniseries, and not just because it features the most recognizable character or the one with the most cleavage.

Firestorm #12 (written by Dan Jolley, with art by Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) continues the assault on the new Firestorm by the old one’s greatest enemies. The dramatic tension comes from the literal struggle for control of Firestorm, with Jason having the power but Ronnie the strategic knowledge. While Ronnie’s tactics save the day, they also play into the hands of the villain pulling the strings, so “to be continued.” This arc has spotlighted both Jason’s power and inexperience, and while I’m not going to suggest “this is what a teenager fighting supervillains would look like,” Jolley has made it ring true. The art and color is as good as ever, so I’m glad I keep getting this book.

Based on my good experiences with Dan Slott’s She-Hulk and Spider-Man/Human Torch, I picked up G.L.A. #1 (art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) expecting more fun in that vein. Well, it was funny, especially the Monkey Joe inserts, but in a very dark way. When your hero is Mr. Immortal, whose superpower is that he can’t be killed, that’s probably to be expected. Still, I only knew these characters from their picosecond cameos in JLA/Avengers, and this issue did a good job of introducing them and making them sympathetic.

Thanks to cable I had just seen the “Buffy” episode where she and Riley are trapped in the fraternity house, with their sexual energy powering these vines that trap others, so I wanted to compare that to the plot of Astonishing X-Men #8 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday), with the runaway Danger Room, but in the end that wasn’t happening. For one thing, Wolverine didn’t sing “Behind Blue Eyes.” I still get a very Willow Rosenberg vibe off Kitty Pryde, though. Having a rogue Danger Room (as opposed to Rogue’s Danger Room, I guess) was explained adequately enough, and the art was good as always, but these are the kinds of groundbreaking plots fans anticipated when Whedon was announced? This is the sort of thing folks can expect over at least the next 16 issues? If this were “Buffy,” it would be the season-ending show after the big finale to the season-long story arc, which cleanses the palate and gets everybody ready for the next big arc. So far I’m not seeing much innovation out of Whedon, and I’ve seen “Firefly,” so I know he can do better.

I also got Shanna The She-Devil #3 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) this week. Yeah, I know.

Finally I want to plug Batman Chronicles #1, reprinting in order every Batman story ever published. This volume covers the first year (Detective Comics #s 27-38 and Batman #1), and introduces Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Catwoman, Prof. Hugo Strange, the Monk, and Dr. Death. At $14.99, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the Archive books, plus you don’t have to go back and forth between books to read the Batman and Detective stories. I do hope DC is committed to this project, because it will provide a good look both at Batman’s early “gothic” period and how quickly that evolved into the happier adventurer who became Adam West.

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